Health officials reveal Oahu hospitals are becoming full

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Department of Health reported another day of more than 200 new cases of COVID-19.

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On Aug. 23, 248 cases were reported, with 12 on Maui and eight on Hawaii island, the rest were on Oahu. There are now 4,410 active cases statewide.

As of Sunday, there were 253 COVID-19 patients in the hospital and healthcare workers and doctors are warning hospitals on Oahu could be at maximum capacity by the end of the week.

Health leaders are urging everyone to not gather in large groups and to stay at home for the next two weeks.

“The changes we’ve seen in the past week from the hospital have been, on Oahu anyway, unprecedented as compared to even a month ago,” explained community physician Dr. Jim Ireland.

“We are at a very critical stage in terms of where our hospitals are at right now,” explained Hawaii Healthcare Association CEO Hilton Raethel.

The Hawaii Healthcare Association said there are roughly 3,000 licensed beds in the state, and normally about 2,000 are staffed.

“We have about 2,000 patients in our hospitals, so essentially our hospitals are 100% full in terms of staff capacity,” Raethel said.

Although there are more beds available, he said many staff have retired, resigned, have been exposed or are under investigation due to COVID-19.

“What we are critically short of right now is nursing staff,” he said. “And because we now have all these patients in our hospitals across the state we are looking now at having to bring in additional staffing from the mainland because we are running out of especially nursing staff here in Hawaii.”

Raethel said they’re asking for about 50 to 100 nurses to come and assist.

“We absolutely believe we will need federal resources here in Hawaii within the next seven to 14 days, and able to adequately take care of all the sick people here in Hawaii,” he continued.

Dr. Ireland said the problem at Oahu’s hospitals will have a ripple effect on neighbor island residents.

“If there are no beds or staff available to take care of those patients then there will be trouble getting them here and difficulty transferring them to Oahu,” he said.

Dr. Ireland said he has COVID patients who live in large households where a family member was infected, but he still has patients who have also been gathering in groups.

“Some of my patients, unfortunately, are still getting together with friends,” he said. “One group after a game of golf–they were socially distanced during the golf game, but afterward got together for some drinks and maybe got a little too close and didn’t have masks on.”

He said other emergency room doctors have told him that they’ve seen a big increase in the number of people calling 911 complaining that they can’t breathe. Paramedics respond promptly but he said hospitals on Oahu are starting to go on “ambulance divert.”

“Meaning they’re full, they can’t take any more patients so the ambulance will have to go to another hospital and the ER doctors that I talk to, even a few weeks ago, would go a few shifts without seeing a patient with COVID-19, and now they’re seeing not just one per shift, but multiple per doctor per shift,” Dr. Ireland explained.

Lieutenant Governor Dr. Josh Green said he’ll push for another lockdown this week to help bring numbers down.

“At this rate, given the reality, we have 4,410 active cases so we’re going to be looking at about 400 people in the hospital with COVID in 10 days to two weeks and that’s going to tax our healthcare system like it’s never been taxed before with an infectious disease,” Green said.  

He said more fatalities will be a result of the increase in numbers.

“It’s going to come close to home, is what will change about how people feel about it soon,” he said.

He said a stay-at-home order will be a tough decision to make but it needs to be done.

“Whether or not you’re hearing it from others and they’re saying you can go to a restaurant this and that, this is not the time to be doing that,” he explained.

“I think it will be clear by mid-week that it doesn’t make any sense to try and keep businesses open when there’s this much spread,” Green said. “The most sensible thing, whether you’re focusing on health or economic activity, is to really stop the virus because there will be much better economic activity if we stopped it cold which is going to take four weeks no matter what.”

Just like the original stay-at-home order that was issued back in March, he said this time around it will bring numbers back down to single or double digits and it will give the Department of Health time to catch up with contact tracing and testing.

“At this rate, in two weeks, we’re going to have to have a pop-up hospital–maybe on the grounds of the capitol across from Queen’s something like that to have people for overflow care and that’s going to be unbelievable when we start having to do that,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Green said the order will be for Oahu, but will defer to Maui Mayor Michael Victorino and Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim whether they think one should be issued for each respective island as cases there continue to climb.

Green said he’ll recommend everyone to work from home, take-out for restaurants, and people to only leave their home for groceries or to seek healthcare.

“There are too many loopholes, there is too much activity, people are spreading it in the office, when they’re in and out of their elevator four to five times a day. It would be better to be in a stay at home order, or safer at home order,” he said.

As for the loopholes, he said the stay-at-home order would have to be straight-forward with little to no exceptions.

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